Across the Texas Panhandle

Western Texas – Amarillo to New Mexico

After spending two days in Amarillo, we hit the road to finish our travel across Texas to the western half of Route 66 through New Mexico, Arizona and California.

Our goal for the day was to make about 120 miles. The first 75 of those miles would take us through Texas, the last 45 miles would get us into New Mexico to Tucumcari, where we planned to spend a night in another of the iconic motels on Route 66, the Blue Swallow.

We cruised west on Route 66 out of Amarillo and the city quickly melted into the flat Texas landscape. The vast flat horizon would be punctuated only occasionally by small farm towns with their attendant grain elevators. Some of the grain elevators were newer and operational, but some had been replaced and were no longer in service, left to waste away in time.

About 40 miles outside of Amarillo, we found ourselves in the small town of Vega Texas. Vega started slowly as a dusty homesteading area in the very late 1800’s and flourished in the early 1900’s as a growing town on the railroad and Old Ozark Trail. In 1915, the town won a struggle with a neighboring town to be named the county seat. This distinction led to the creation of a town square graced with a new brick county courthouse.

The small town is still anchored by the impressive courthouse, standing in the center of a shady town square, adorned with historical markers and community monuments.

The town realized another economic boost when Route 66 was commissioned in 1926. The new highway often followed some of the early named trails (like the Old Ozark Trail that went through Vega) and the Mother Road was conveniently routed through the center of town. Vega was already bustling as a growing rail town and the addition of a major national highway added more cross-country traffic.

One remnant drawing visitors today is a restored Magnolia gasoline station that sits just adjacent to the town square. The station was built in 1924, just ahead of the highway, but then served travelers faithfully as a gas station until 1953. It was then a barbershop until 1965. The building remained empty and fell into disrepair until it was saved by the community in 2004 with help from several Texas preservation organizations and the National Park Service as a Route 66 Corridor preservation project.

Today it stands as a neat interpretive stop for travelers interested in the relationship between the Mother Road and the lives of small business owners that the road supported. The station is adorned with plaques commemorating the lives of previous owners and operators, and a brick border of bricks with names of people involved with the businesses through the years.

Just a half block from the square and the station, we stumbled on another interesting artifact of the town, the Milburn – Price Culture Museum. Though not specifically a Route 66 museum, the stop offers a great insight to the history and culture of the Texas Panhandle. We were impressed by the quaint collection that was curated and assembled from the donations and artifacts from local families.

As we walked up to the museum, the woman hosting the museum came out to greet us and invited us to come in an look around. Before we went in, though, she suggested a photo op by sitting in the restored Model T that was prominently parked in front of the museum.

We spent quite a while browsing through the artifacts in the museum. Included were a working printing press from the original county newspaper, a circular storage cabinet for hardware from the old hardware store, a neatly restored sewing machine, and a display of old cameras that I found interesting.

After visiting the Milburn – Price Culture Museum, we followed the old Route 66 through Vega (a whole five blocks west of the town square) before it faded on the horizon as an abandoned path.

We left Vega heading south, picking up the I40 service road to go west to our next stop, about 13 miles down the road, in Adrian Texas.

With a population of 166, the very small dusty town of Adrian is not much more than home to local grain elevator and a rather impressive wind farm.

Still, the town draws heavily from the Route 66 traveler base with its claim to fame as the Midpoint of US 66, a fact prominently posted on a signpost, a line painted across the highway, and a bench adorned with a billboard sized sign.

Anchoring the “midpoint” is the Midpoint Café Restaurant, built in 1928, and nestled between a motel built in 1967 and 1930’s era filling station. The café once operated 24 hours a day and is still a popular stop on the highway for it’s famous “ugly crust” pie.

The café was owned for years by Fran Houser, who inspired the character Flo in the movie Cars. Fran sold the restaurant, but still operates the adjacent station as the Sunflower Station Gift Shop.

The station was closed the day we came through town, but it was still a treat to look around and especially fun to take a look at the old pickup that Fran keeps at the station for people to sign.

Even though the station was closed, the café was open, and we were hungry, so we stopped for lunch and a “shared” piece of their famous pie.

After lunch, we headed west from Adrian to explore more of Route 66. The run from Adrian to the Texas/ New Mexico state line was an uneventful 20 mile run along the interstate and more of the vast flat dusty landscape of west Texas. The original Route 66 no longer existed except as remnant dirt farm roads bordering the interstate. When we got to the last Texas exit, we pulled off the Interstate to go over the bridge to pick up a small stretch of Route 66 between Texas and New Mexico. On the bridge we took just a moment to take one last look at Texas and a peek at New Mexico.

At the foot of the bridge, we turned right and headed into the small ghost town of Glenrio Texas/New Mexico on the original Route 66. Like most of the small towns along this section of the Mother Road, Glenrio was founded in 1903 as one of the way stops along the Rock Island Railroad. As the Ozark Trail Association expanded its roads through Texas around 1915, Glenrio started inviting tourists to stop for gas, refreshments, and overnight lodgings. Road traffic got heavier when the Ozark Trail was absorbed by Route 66 in 1926.

With more traffic, Glenrio, though small, became more active in the tourist trade, and the local population boomed to about 30 to 40 people in the 40’s and 50’s. Being on the border between Texas and New Mexico led to an interesting distribution of tourist businesses; gas stations tended to cluster on the Texas side of town because of the lower gas tax, while bars and some motels would tend to cluster to the New Mexico side to avoid the dry Texas county of Deaf Smith. One of the notable remnants today is the State Line Motel, with the remnants of its sign that read “Motel, Last in Texas” to travelers arriving from the east and “Motel, First in Texas” to traffic arriving from the west.

The motel is grown over and may not be the most inviting anymore but stepping back into the motor court behind the front building provides a glimpse of the shaded promenade and stately trees that offered a bit of respite from the sun. The open doors invite a peek into the rooms, no longer kept up but still showing their 1950’s décor.

We continued slowly down the short stretch of the old highway that had been Glenrio, stopping to take in some of the other abandoned relics.

There was what appeared to be an abandoned bar or package good store (State Line Bar), clearly on the New Mexico side of town, to benefit from the more liberal New Mexico liquor laws. Nearby was an abandoned building that appeared to be a mid 20’s era station (Broyles Mobil Station), the roof collapsed, but the canopy still somewhat intact and protecting what would have been the gas pumps.

Standing close together were a 50’s era diner and gas station, both concrete block construction, but with a bit of an Art Moderne flair in their design and trim. The restaurant had been adorned with a column supporting a sheet metal neon sign, now faded but still evident.

Heading down the old highway on the New Mexico side of town, the concrete curb separating the lanes on the old roadbed became apparent. Just over the slight crest in the road, however, the Mother Road turned to a gravel roadbed that disappeared on the New Mexico horizon.

The gravel roadbed of the original Route 66 was supposedly passable, but not to us with the Mustang. We returned to the interstate and headed west into New Mexico and our planned stay for the night. At the small town of San Jon, we returned to the original Mother Road, which now pretty much follows the interstate as a frontage road. It was just a few more miles before we came to a slight curve in the road where we could see on the horizon the mountain, actually a large mesa, that was the namesake for Tucumcari New Mexico, where we planned to stay for the night.

Two Days in Amarillo


Our first day in Amarillo was spent exploring the Sixth Street Historic District west of downtown Amarillo. The district, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, provides an interesting collection of commercial buildings that were developed in response to the routing of US 66 through the heart of Amarillo.

The 13 block stretch of SW 6th Street, about 1 ½ miles west of downtown, was originally developed in the early 1900’s as a streetcar suburb of Amarillo. Some of the protected buildings in the district date to the early 1920’s when SW 6th Street served as the commercial corridor for the new suburban San Jacinto neighborhood. But it was in the mid 1920’s that the commercial corridor blossomed. The route was to become part of Route 66 and it was paved with asphalt on a concrete foundation. The road brought traffic and visitors and more commercial development. Between the mid 20’s and into the late 30’s, the street saw a burgeoning growth of commercial buildings, many featuring elements of Spanish Revival, Art Deco, and Art Moderne design typical of the period.

Today, many of the buildings are occupied by a variety of restaurants, specialty stores, and antique shops. We spent the day working our way along the street, checking out the buildings wherever we could.

At the gateway to the Historic District is one of the more interesting buildings on the register. The Natatorium was originally built in 1922 as an indoor swimming pool. The building was designed in a somewhat gothic revival style with some novelty to the facades. The larger pool building was designed to replicate a medieval castle with an inset arched entryway and ornamental parapets at the corners. The second entrance to the building, around the corner, sort of an annex to the larger building, was designed with a nautical theme, looking more like a ship with lifeboat-like elements near the roofline.

The Nat didn’t last long as an indoor swimming pool. In 1926, the building was converted to a ballroom. The interior was redesigned and embellished in an art deco style and the pool was covered with a polished wood floor to provide a stage and dance floor on the first floor. Because the new ballroom was conveniently located on Route 66, it quickly became a popular stopping point for acts traveling across the country. It was also a natural draw for travelers staying over in Amarillo.

The ballroom was active into the 1960’s and played host to many name acts including Tommy Dorsey, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Roy Orbinson, Buddy Holly, and Duke Ellington.

Just down the block from the Natatorium, we explored the Bussey Buildings, a collection of brick storefronts built in the late 1920’s. These were some of the first commercial buildings to grace the new US 66 highway making its way through the heart of Amarillo. Today, the stores are active with a collection of antique shops, small art stores and specialty boutiques catering to Route 66 aficionados.

Just another block further, we found an older commercial building from when the neighborhood was first started. The Cazzell Building, built in 1918, first served the neighborhood as a general store and post office. In 1922, W.E. Cazzell sold the small storefront and built a larger store across the street with lease space to take advantage of the coming highway route. The smaller storefront is still in use as a small restaurant.

In about the middle of the 13 block stretch we found a quaint little commercial building built in an art moderne style with large oval plate glass windows, curved corners, and a rounded awning on three sides. The building was originally built in 1941 as a Borden’s Heap-O-Cream, a small restaurant /café specializing in selling Borden’s dairy products, including ice cream treats. Currently unoccupied, this small shop looked to be an interesting opportunity for some TLC and refurbishing.

Traveling Route 66 through any town or city is not complete without finding several gas stations from several eras. Amarillo was no different.

One of the first gas station buildings we found was the Addison Baker Tire Company building. The service station was built in 1939 primarily as a tire store with two service bays. The design, however, included room for gas pumps with a canopy cover where Texaco branded gas was sold.

What was interesting is that the tire store was the second Texaco station in about four blocks on this stretch of Route 66. The first Texaco station, built in 1937, is still clad in white porcelain and is very similar in design used by the tire store just two years later. When it was first built, the classic design of this station and the red star motif of the parent company provided instant recognition for motorists in search of Texaco products.

Just across the street from the Texaco station there is a similar gas station (two bays and a covered canopy), likely built in the same mid 30’s time frame. Understanding competition, it was not unusual to see one gas station built and then another on the opposite side of the street looking to make it easy for the motorist to pull in without having to turn left!

Today, the two former gas stations are now repurposed as restaurant/bars, still competing but with a different product.

In the blocks between the gas stations, we found the more impressive Caroline Building, built in 1926 using a Spanish Revival architectural style. The building is a great example of early period strip commercial buildings in Amarillo along the newly designated US 66. According to records, original tenants were an auto paint firm, a barbershop, a beauty parlor, and a drugstore. The property has been nicely restored and is well kept up and tenants are a variety of specialty shops.

Finally, near the end of the historical district, we found the San Jacinto Methodist Church, built in 1926 to service the residents of the early suburban neighborhood.

The church has a bit of a Greek revival architecture, very balanced on its south side entrance with a pillar supported transom entrance flanked by matching narrow stained-glass windows. The original steps, which led out to 6th Street, were reconfigured to lead to the door from an adjacent side street when Route 66 was widened in 1942.

After spending the better part of the day walking around the historical district, we decided to stop for a late lunch at one of the many restaurants in the neighborhood. The one that caught our eye (and hungry bellies!) was Smokey Joes BBQ.

It was nice to get off our feet and enjoy some good food (and cold beers!) before we headed back to our hotel for some down time.


After breakfast our second day in Amarillo, we headed south on the Interstate out of town. Although our destination was a stitching store in Lubbock about 125 miles away, we also planned a side trip stop at Palo Duro Canyon, a Texas State Park about eight miles off the Interstate about 20 miles south of Amarillo.

We had seen some brochures advertising Palo Duro Canyon at our hotel and it looked like it could be an interesting stop with an opportunity to do a little hiking and exploring. Ultimately, the park was a great find, an economical introduction to the Indian and ranching history of Texas in a rich, beautiful canyon.

At just over 16,000 acres and including access to the second largest canyon in the United States, the park was a bargain stop at $5 a person for admission. The entire canyon is roughly 120 miles long and has an average width of 6 miles but reaches a width of 20 miles at some places. Its depth is about 820 feet but reaches as much as 1000 feet in some places.  Palo Duro is often called the Grand Canyon of Texas.

The land for the park was deeded over to the state of Texas in 1933 and the Civilian Conservation Corps spent the next four years developing the park amenities, including a road down to the canyon floor, some very impressive park visitor centers, and some very nice hiking trails.

We did manage to get some hiking in despite the temperatures that were reaching towards 100F.

At the floor of the canyon, closer to the river, it was a bit cooler and we even had a chance to see some native wildlife.

Overall, Palo Duro Canyon provided a nice side trip on our run down Route 66.

After spending the better part of the morning Palo Duro Canyon, we struck out for Lubbock and the stitching store. As we sped towards Lubbock on I27, we saw the Texas scenery we were more used to.

We got back to Amarillo late in the day and ventured out to enjoy the building restoration efforts downtown one last time before enjoying dinner after our long day.

After dinner, we went back to our hotel to pack and rest before heading west on the next leg of Route 66.

Across the Texas Panhandle

Eastern Texas – Oklahoma Border to Amarillo

Leaving Oklahoma behind us, we continued west on the Mother Road across the state line into Texas.

It’s a bit ironic, but the largest of the lower 48 states hosts the second shortest mileage of Route 66, second only to Kansas. Essentially, the highway ran about 180 miles east/west across the Texas panhandle. As it ran across the flat panhandle landscape, the only major Texas city it went through was Amarillo.

The Mother Road was virtually replaced by I40 in Texas, and in most areas the original highway is either relegated to frontage road status or has been totally obliterated by the interstate. This can make for a rather dry and boring ride, save for a few interesting towns with remnants from the hey days of the Mother Road. There are also only a few stretches of original paved road that are available to ride on.

The first stop of note was Shamrock, about sixteen miles from the state line. The city of about 2000 hosts a number of Route 66 icons. Shamrock was settled by sheep ranching Irish immigrants in the very late 1800’s, but the discovery of oil in 1925 and the routing of US66 through the town led to growth and prosperity. Unfortunately, the city’s fortunes changed once I40 bypassed the city and Route 66 was decommissioned.

In the heyday of Route 66, Shamrock made an effort to capitalize on its Irish heritage by hosting one of the largest St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Texas.  Started in 1938, the event grew to a multiday event that drew attendances of up to 30,000 people in a town of less than 4,000 citizens. In 1959, a piece of the Blarney Stone was provided to the city of Shamrock to further emphasize their Irish heritage

In 2013, the State of Texas adopted a resolution proclaiming Shamrock’s celebration the official St. Patrick’s Day celebration for the State of Texas.

As I mentioned previously, Shamrock hosts quite a few remnants from the days of Route 66. Some are nicely restored, some not so much, some have been repurposed and their previous life is long past. The city has tried to keep its Mother Road heritage alive, hosting several Route 66 events and a local artist, Tye Thompson has painted several murals throughout the city.

We found his latest mural, a tribute to Route 66, painted on a retaining wall for an abandoned property on 12th Street on the east side of town.

The mural stretches a full block and has a separate panel with a classic car for each state on Route 66. The concept of the mural is cool, and it’s nicely situated to greet travelers entering Shamrock from the east, but it would really be nice if the property would be developed into a true recreational space, maybe quick introduction to the history of Route 66 in Shamrock. Having a classic Ford Mustang convertible painted on the wall would help as well  ; )

Just across the street from the mural we saw the first of what was likely a remnant of the old Mother Road. Now a bit disheveled, the small, art-deco building with decorated parapets looked typical for an early gas station or tire repair shop built to serve traveler’s needs on early Route 66.

Just a few blocks further, we found Shamrock’s crown jewel to their Route 66 legacy. In 1936, the U-Drop Inn was built in Shamrock at the then major crossroads of US Route 83 and US Route 66. The combination gas station and restaurant was designed in an ornate art-deco style designed to be a beacon to travelers through Shamrock.

The U-Drop Inn was considered one of the most impressive examples of Route 66 architecture by the Texas Historical Commission. Unfortunately, when I40 bypassed the city and Route 66 was decommissioned, the property, like many others, fell into disrepair. Nonetheless, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997, then purchased by the First National Bank of Shamrock in 1999 and given to the city of Shamrock. With a federal grant, the city was able to restore the property to its previous elegance and adapt it to a museum, visitors’ center, gift shop, and the city’s chamber of commerce.

An interesting addition was made to the property in March of 2014 when a Tesla Supercharger Station was built on the site.

The charging station reflects an interesting transition for Route 66, from the gasoline driven travel of yesterday into the concept of electric cars for tomorrow. In both cases, the lure of the road is enticing.

Continuing through town, we found a nicely restored Magnolia Gas Station from circa 1929 that proved to be a treat, with its old-time restored gas pumps and decorated with the classic Mobil Pegasus logo.

It was near 4PM as we cruised west out of Shamrock on old Route 66. Our plans for the evening were to stay in Amarillo, and we still had about an hour and a half to go. With the sun dropping in the west, we planned our travel to speed our way to our hotel.

Just west of Shamrock, the old Route 66 becomes a frontage road for Interstate 40, running about 30 miles west through the small towns of Alan Reed and McLean. The small Texas towns reach out to their Mother Road legacy (none as much as Shamrock), but they also retain their Texas heritage. McLean boasts about their “Devils Rope Museum” and each small Texas town along the route wear their grain elevators and windmills like badges on the flat pan handle plain.

West of McLean, the old 66 becomes dirt road past Jericho; we cut over to the Interstate along this stretch and rejoined the paved frontage road just west of Conway. This particular stretch of old Route 66, concrete with just a bit of blacktop, is fast somewhat straight and veers just enough from the Interstate to give you a taste of the original route before arriving in Amarillo.

At the out skirts of Amarillo, we picked up the Interstate again and took the freeway into the downtown area where we planned to stay at a newer Marriot Courtyard in a converted classic 1928 bank building.

We were nicely upgraded to a small suite on one of the upper floors, giving us a nice place to stretch out and rest.

After we settled into our room, we went out and found found a small Mexican restaurant tucked away a couple blocks from the hotel.

We got back to our room just as dusk fell across Amarillo and we watched the as the neon turned on to brighten the downtown skyline.

Our original plans were to spend two nights in Amarillo, allowing one day to explore the National Historic Route 66 District along the original path of Route 66 through Amarillo. After settling into the hotel after a great dinner, we decided to change our plans and stay one more night in Amarillo, allowing a side trip for Kathy to visit a stitching store in Lubbock and a visit to Palo Duro Canyon, a Texas State Park just south of Amarillo.

Western Oklahoma – Hinton OK to the Texas State Line

When we left Hinton Oklahoma, our plan was to make Amarillo Texas by the end of the day. The distance is only 210 miles and the drive on the interstate would only take three hours. But we were taking the original Route 66…the mileage would be a bit more and the average speed was quite a bit less. It was a beautiful Oklahoma morning, still not too hot and a clear blue sky. We dropped the top on the car and hit the road.

Ultimately, the 200 plus miles from Hinton, Oklahoma to Amarillo, Texas would take us about ten hours, but the experiences along the way would be priceless!


We were traveling the last part of Oklahoma on a Sunday on a long holiday weekend. We weren’t sure what would or wouldn’t be open or what kind of traffic we’d find. We just decided to make the best of it with whatever we found along the way.

West of Oklahoma City, Route 66 and I 40 run due west and pretty much parallel. Initially, the original highway is located about a half mile north of the interstate, far enough away that there’s only local traffic and no evidence of the interstate to detract from the two lane highway that runs out through the rolling hills to the horizon. This led to a very quiet Sunday morning ride.

The ride through this part of Oklahoma would take us through a mix of western Oklahoma towns and cities, none very big, many really small – Hydro, Weatherford, Clinton, Foss, Canute, Elk City, Sayre, Hext, Erick, Texola – and then the Texas border

Our first stop was the restored Provine/Hammons Gas Station, situated neatly on the side of the road just west of Hext. The station is better known as Lucille’s Historic Gas Station since Lucille Hammons effectively ran the business for 59 years starting in 1941 when she and her husband bought it.

The station was built in 1929 and is characteristic of the design for rural gas stations during the era of increasing automobile travel. The small station office occupies the lower level and the living quarters for the owner/operator occupy the upper floor.

This particular station changed ownership a few times, finally becoming the property of the Hammons’ in 1941. The station was run by Lucille until her death in 2000. Lucille was known as a feisty business owner and a proponent for the Mother Road, earning her the nickname of “Mother of the Mother Road”. Even when I 40 was opened in 1971 alongside the original Route 66 and her station was relegated to a lonely location well off the nearest exit, Lucille persevered.  She seized opportunity and installed a beer cooler; her best regulars were the men at Southwest Oklahoma State University in nearby Weatherford which was a dry town.

Her memory lives on at Lucille’s Roadhouse, a new establishment named in her honor in nearby Weatherford. The owners of the new roadhouse were involved in preserving the original station.

We continued our Sunday morning drive through Weatherford and into Clinton. Arriving in Clinton, we were greeted by a somewhat forsaken remnant of Route 66, the Glancy Motel.

The Glancy is a classic 1950’s chain type motel that was built next to Pop Hicks, a popular Route 66 diner since 1936. The combination of a popular diner and bright and colorful “modern” motel created a few prosperous decades for the businesses along the Mother Road. But progress and fate prevailed and between the re-routing of Route 66 to the interstate in the mid 70’s and a fire that destroyed Pop Hicks in 1999, the Glancy went into a downward spiral. After a brief flirt with restoration in the early 2000’s, the property continues to stagnate and today looks near abandoned.

We continued into Clinton along the original route and found the main downtown street closed off for a block party later in the day. Our detour one block over led us to finding a great restoration of an early 1920’s lumber store into a coffee shop and offices.

The vacant lumber yard was purchased by the Strayhouse Kitchen and Coffee in 2016 and has embarked on a journey to restore the building with attention to its prior life. The original signage, though faded and in disrepair, is still present. The two drive through bays that trisect the building and allowed lumber trucks to load under cover are now repurposed, one providing a covered dining patio, the other providing drive through access to the coffee shop and covered access to eclectic offices and shops. The old wooden storage shed in the back of the property is still present and may offer commercial opportunities to an enterprising entrepreneur. Kudos to Strayhouse for working to get this rough rock polished to a productive gem.

Initially, Clinton was of interest as the home of the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum. Unfortunately, we got into town around 10AM and, because it was Sunday, the museum wouldn’t open until 1PM. The building is a glitzy art deco retro design that is enticing and a nice informative visit (we knew this from our stop when we passed through town in 2012). It was a bit disappointing, but we needed to keep moving and, since we had been through the museum in 2012, we opted not to wait and continued on the highway out of town.

Just as we reached the outskirts of Clinton, we found one last relic of the original highway, McLain Rogers Park.

The 12 acre park was originally built between 1934 and 1937 as a cooperative WPA effort to provide employment for Clinton citizens during the depression. Though designed as a city park, with pavilions, a bandstand, and a variety of recreational opportunities, the park also enticed travelers on Route 66 with its classic art deco entrance pillars and original neon signage facing the highway.

As an additional tie-in to the Route 66 history, the small fieldstone building just to the left of the entrance to the park was the last structure built (1941) and was designed initially to house an outpost of the Oklahoma State Patrol, whose work was increasing because of increasing traffic on the highway.

As we left Clinton, we continued our cruising on the old configuration of Route 66, which pretty much followed along the frontage roads of the newer I40. Between Clinton and Canute, just east of Foss, the route had us cross over from the southern frontage road to the northern frontage road at one of the I40 underpasses. As we pulled through the underpass, we found a huge colony of cliff swallows and stopped to get some pictures as they swooped in and out of the underpass to feed their broods in their gourd shaped mud nests.

Swallows roosting under the overpasses would become a common sight as we traveled along Route 66 in the southwest. They always lived in huge groups of hundreds, maybe thousands of birds, swooping and diving against the bright blue sky. Each trip through one of these underpasses would bring to mind the movie “The Birds” as we continued down the road.

Little Canute, Oklahoma was pretty much orphaned when I40 took over the traffic from Route 66 in the early 70’s. The original Route 66 was routed as the main drag on the northern end of town, with the main street intersecting the highway at a tee. Rather than disrupt the small city with a major interstate, the super slab was curved to the north, away from the outskirts of town by a half mile. Access to Canute from the interstate is now through one exit at the east end of town and a half mile north.

Before the super slab, the Mother Road was the north end of the city and it had several traveler related businesses. What Canute offers today are the ghosts and remains of those businesses.

The first remain we saw was the oft photographed Cotton Boll Motel sign. Once a popular stopping place for travelers, it has now fallen into disrepair and is virtually abandoned, though by some accounts it still serves as a single family residence.

Next up along the highway was the Canute Service Station, listed on the Register of Historic Places in 1995. The building actually started as a dance hall and roadhouse (west end of the building not under the canopy) in 1936 and the gas station and service bays were added in 1939.

The building, especially the gas station, has a somewhat art deco pueblo architecture. The canopy would have sheltered gas pumps and there were three service bays lining the west side of the building, which fronted Main Street.

Just west and on the other side of the highway are the remains of another gas station, referred to by the locals as Kupka’s Station. Based on the style, the station is probably just a bit older than the Canute Station across the street.

The canopy has a bit of an art deco look with its curved edges. The station was also built with two service bays, reflecting the practice of providing additional services to travelers to improve revenue. Though competitors, the two stations in close proximity actually serviced two groups of travelers on the highway, with one conveniently situated for the westbound trade, the other more convenient for the eastbound.

On the west end of Canute, the old highway is anchored by another ghost of a motel sign. Standing quiet and lonely near the edge of the road stand the remains of the Washita Motel sign, once a bright neon beacon for travelers looking for a place to stay.

Besides the ghostly remains of businesses, Canute also provided an interesting configuration of the old Route 66 and how it yielded to progress of the Interstate. Just a half mile west of town, we had an opportunity to view, walk on, drive, a short (three tenths of a mile) section of original 66. This was the western remnant of the old 66 that effectively formed the northern edge of Canute.

When the interstate was built, it was routed north of Canute about three tenths of a mile, around the city. On either edge of town, the interstate right of way effectively used the right of way for the Mother Road. An arial view of the road configuration shows how the interstate effectively crossed over the original Route 66, relegating the original highway to a “frontage road” status.

Nonetheless, the original highway physically exists and provides a great opportunity to drive on the historical roadway. The grass growing between the concrete slabs tells the story of abandonment, but the narrower width of what was a two lane road and the gentle graded curb on the shoulder speaks of highway construction in the 30’s.

I stopped at the end of the road for just a bit contemplating the thoughts of the drivers in the 30’s and 40’s as they traveled west, nothing before them except this thin ribbon of concrete running to the horizon.

Leaving the ghosts of highways past behind us, we continued down the road towards Elk City, Oklahoma. As we entered the downtown area, we ran across a larger older building that advertised a relationship with Route 66 as the site of the 1931 Route 66 Conference, an organization created to advertise and publicize the highway.

As it turned out, the building is listed on the National Register and was originally built in 1928 as the Casa Grande Hotel. The Spanish Eclectic style hotel was built on Route 66 at roughly the half way point between Oklahoma City and Amarillo to provide luxury accommodations for the increasing number of travelers on the major highway.

Though it may not be much to look at today, the hotel in its day was known as a luxurious establishment, with a large two story lobby, elegantly furnished and decorated. The building is still listed as the Anadarko Basin Museum of Natural History, a privately held museum dedicated to one of the largest oil and gas reserves ever known in the US. The museum is no longer open because of funding issues. It will be interesting to see if somewhere along the line, a “guardian angel” comes along to save and perhaps resurrect the property as a boutique hotel.

The next stop in Elk City was the National Route 66 Museum, one of a number of museums at the Old Town Museum complex on the west side of the city. We had stopped at this museum six years ago when we took Route 66 to the half point and found it rather interesting and we hoped to make the stop again. Alas, Sunday hours did us in again; we got there about 11:30 and the museum wouldn’t open until 1PM. With the miles we needed to cover, we knew we couldn’t wait. Still, the outside grounds were accessible and the plantings, water garden, and recreated old buildings provided a brief respite before we hit the road again.

We weren’t the only ones who found out the museum was closed. While we meandered the grounds, we met a small group of travelers from France working to get their picture taken under the large Route 66 sign.

We also met two couples from Ohio who were making the trip on Route 66 in reverse. They had flown to California, rented a matching pair of new Ford Mustang convertibles and were working their way back to Chicago for their flight back to Dayton.

Leaving Elk City, we bobbed back and forth on the I40 frontage roads heading to Sayre. A treat along this old configuration of Route 66 was a ride across the endangered Timber Creek truss bridge.

The 96 foot Pratt through truss bridge was built in 1928 and faithfully served Route 66 as the path across Timber Creek until 1958 when the road was upgraded to a four lane highway and routed just north of the old bridge. By 1966 the four lane highway was upgraded to interstate status and the old highway became just another stretch of frontage road.

Today, people passing by on I40 just a couple hundred feet north of the old girder bridge may see it as just a quaint two lane country bridge nestled over a quiet creek (if they notice it at all!), unaware that for 30 years that sturdy girder bridge was a key part of the infrastructure that carried hundreds of cars and trucks daily on their trips east and west.

Between Sayre and Erick Oklahoma, just north of Hext, the original four lane path of Route 66 wanders north of I40 for about five miles. Though travel is restricted to the two east bound lanes – the westbound lanes are blocked with large growth trees at each end – the abandoned west bound lanes lie just north of the lanes that are used, present as a ghost of the Mother Road’s past.

The road is technically closed, but it’s still possible to get out and walk the concrete lanes, thinking about the days when this road was a major thoroughfare with heavy traffic in both directions. Today, the road is well removed from the interstate, with only the sound of the Oklahoma winds and an occasional car passing on the nearby two lane to break thoughts of days past. Though the road looks a little forlorn right now, there is some talk about the original road becoming part of a regional bike trail.

Just down the road from the historic four lane section of Route 66, we cruised into the small city of Erick Oklahoma, what would turn out to be the last significant populated area of Oklahoma. The small city is somewhat famous for being home to two of Country music’s more peculiar music legends. Sheb Wooley, the songwriter and singer who recorded the saga of the “one-eyed, one horned flying  Purple People Eater” was born in Erick in 1921. In addition, the light hearted country superstar Roger Miller, most famous for “King of the Road” and “Dang Me”, grew up in Erick from the age of three.

As we drove through the sleepy town we were drawn by the eclectic exterior décor of the Sandhills Curiosity Shop on the corner of 3rd and Sheb Wooley Street.

There is no way to fully describe the appearance of the building/store except to call it “eccentrically eclectic”. Based on the “City Meat Market” ghost sign still visible over the canopy, the building had a more essential past as a butcher shop, and amongst all the signs on the outside was one that proclaimed the building the oldest brick building in Erick. But now the signs suggested any number of possibilities including antique store, junk shop, museum, or…?

As I was walking around the outside of the building taking pictures, a middle aged couple walked out of the store. The woman looked at me, smiling and shaking her head in disbelief.  Without me asking anything, she said “There is no way to explain it. You have to go in and experience it yourself”.

Into the “store” we went and proceeded to meet Harley Russel, proprietor of a store that sells nothing but good feelings and entertainment. The “store” is literally filled to the ceiling and front to back with a collection of memorabilia and historical items, none of which are for sale, all of which are for looking, touching, and bringing back memories.

The beginning of the Sandhills Curiosity Shop goes back a number of decades when a young girl with a musical inclination by the name of Annabelle stopped in a small shop in Erick when she needed a string for her guitar. There she met Harley and the two quickly got together as co-owners of the shop.

Their break came one day when they jamming on their guitars when a tour group stopped. They continued with an impromptu performance that was well received and resulted in sizeable tips. The driver of the tour bus promised future visits and Harley and Annabelle, billing themselves as the “Mediocre Music Makers” became an Erick sensation and celebrities on Route 66.

The performances virtually ended in 2014 when Annabelle succumbed to cancer. Nonetheless, Harley still opens his doors to travelers on the Mother Road and he easily shares his fond memories and stories and friendly banter with anyone willing to listen. And he still enjoys entertaining.

While we were there, another couple stopped in and as we were all perusing the items he’s collected in his store, Harley picked up one of his guitars and asked if we’d be interested in hearing a song. After a very mellow intro on his guitar, he broke into a rousing performance of “Get Your Kicks On Route 66”.

It was a great visit to a great icon of the Mother Road, perhaps one of the best memories we came back with.

Just before we reached the Oklahoma state line, we drove through the small town of Texola. Though it was never “big”,Texola did reach a peak population of 581 in the 1930’s shortly after Route 66 was routed through the town. Today the town has shrunk dramatically. With a current population of 38, the town is considered a virtual ghost town, with just a few remnants of buildings from its boomtown days when the Mother Road brought in travelers and prosperity.

Slightly off the old highway is an old territorial jail, built in 1910, that was apparently a popular roadside attraction in the days of the Mother Road. Today, the sturdy but somewhat forlorn jail, now over 100 years old, stands marked with a stone monument placed by the 1938 Texola Senior Class.

The little town was a bustling farm town in the 30’s, with enough local trade to support four cotton gins. Today, those buildings are gone, save for one that survives as a private storage building.

The old main street is peppered with the remains of businesses from the old days, including an old Magnolia Service Station that made it to the National Register.

Leaving Oklahoma behind us, we continued west to take the Mother Road across Texas.

Tulsa to Oklahoma City – The Road Turns West

After Tulsa, Route 66 continues to the southwest for only a bit before reaching Oklahoma City, where it takes a distinct turn to the west. At the same time, the landscape starts to transition from the wooded hills of the east to the more open and flatter plains of the west. From Tulsa to Oklahoma City, the Mother Road goes through a rapid succession of smaller towns – Sapulpa, Bellvue, Bristow, Depew, Wellston, Stroud, Davenport, Chandller, Warwick, Wellston, Luther, Arcadia – before reaching the westward turning point of Oklahoma City.

As we cruised down the road, there were several places we passed that captured our attention and provided background to the historical aspects of the road.

Sapulpa and 66 Foot Gas Pump

To quote Jerry McClanahan (EZ 66 Guide for Travelers, 4th Edition), “Old 66 is full of larger than life people, animals and objects” and it doesn’t take long for anyone following his guide to get caught up in noticing the “Giant” and “Big” things on the route.

I can’t fully recall the reason, but the appearance of a giant gas pump on the horizon garnered Kathy’s interest as a photo op, something to send to her brother in answer to a challenge he issued. We kept our eyes on the sight and ended up following the road to the Heart of Route 66 Auto Museum. The iconic 66-foot-tall gas pump was built as a beacon to draw travelers to their recently opened museum just off Route 66.

Though we didn’t take time to tour the museum ourselves, it did appear to be sleek and well curated. In fact as we were pulling out to continue our drive down the road, there was a huge contingency of old, well restored cars pulling in to visit.

Just Outside Sapulpa – Three Miles of Original Route 66

We left Sapulpa on the last iteration of four lane Route 66. Just west of the city we veered to the right onto a quaint 3.3 mile stretch of old, pre-1952, Route 66.

The original 66 used an already well-developed stretch of road through this part of the state, a road that was based on the old Ozark Trail. The relatively well-developed infrastructure made it easy to incorporate the road into the new national highway

The first thing we saw pulling on to the road was the Rock Creek Bridge, a Parker through-truss bridge, built in 1921 to serve this stretch of the Ozark Trail. One of the aspects that made the bridge special was that it was constructed with a brick deck.

The bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. Though it has a weight limit of 4T and is clearly marked for low clearance with a 7’2” height limit, it still carries traffic today down this historic bit of Route 66.

Just after the bridge, an overgrown structure on the left side of the road caught my eye. It was an early drive-in theater screen. Staked in the tall grasses alongside the road near the property was a “For Sale” sign.

Heavily overgrown, the drive in was long abandoned. Besides the screen, it was possible to make out the remains of the ticket booth and the small projection/concession stand in the open area where the cars would park.

A bit of on-line research showed the property to be the former TeePee Drive-In, built in 1950 on what was then Route 66. It had space for 400 cars, and it remained a business until it was abandoned in 2000. Based on comments that I found online, there are quite a few people in the area that harbor fond memories of the TeePee in its early years.

There was a failed attempt at a restoration in 2012, and now the property is up for sale again. The ad by Coldwell Banker suggests “restore drive-in to its former glory or develop something entirely new.” I could easily envision a restoration to the glory of a drive-in museum, maybe with concessions available all day, a memorabilia store, maybe special shows on in season weekends of nostalgic drive-in flicks. Here’s hoping someone comes along who can plan and market a restoration to all the visitors traveling Route 66.

Leaving the drive-in behind us, we continued down the gently winding stretch toward the point it rejoined the four lane highway. Just before we reached the end, we passed under a low and narrow railroad overpass that dated back to 1926, still in use on a branch line (the Stillwater Central) today.

Kudos to Bolin Ford in Bristow – Protecting the Past

The drive through Bristow would have been uneventful if I hadn’t researched a reference to an historic car dealership before the trip. The Bristow Motor Company began as the first car dealership in the county in 1923 and it continues as a car dealership today.

Until December 2008, Bolin Ford operated their dealership on the entire city block in the historic 1923 building as well as two other historic buildings that were built in 1925 (on the corner at the other end of the block) and 1927 (as a “filler” between the two older buildings). That fateful December a fire broke out in the 1925 building and destroyed it while causing extensive damage to the other two historic buildings.

Despite the economics of the era, Bolin Ford elected to rebuild the dealership in a 1920’s style, managing to save the 1923 and 1927 structures. Though the 1925 building on the corner which housed the entrance to the dealership has been newly constructed, it blends seamlessly into the 1920’s vintage buildings on the rest of the block.

Rebuilt Bolin Ford today

The original 1923 and 1927 brick buildings that were saved

Restored side street facade of original 1923 Bristow Motors

Kudos to Bolin Ford for recognizing the historic value of their property and continuing business on Route 66. Instead of taking the easy way out just building another big box car dealership, they made a concerted effort to preserve their history.

Chandler – One of the Most Interesting Museums on the Mother Road

After Bristow, we worked our way down the road to Chandler. We had one stop planned for Chandler, but we also found another gem as we went through town.

Chandler is home to artist Jerry McClanahan and his Route 66 Gallery is just off the route. Jerry is also the author of the EZ 66 Guide For Travelers, now in its 4th Edition. Jerry started traveling Route 66 with his family during the 60’s and his love for the road turned from hobby to livelihood in the 90’s.

The EZ Guide can easily be described as the bible for anyone making the pilgrimage on Route 66. We used it for our first trip on the road in 2012 and we upgraded to the latest edition for this trip. It is the best base resource for anyone making a trip on Route 66. Now that we stopped at his gallery, our latest edition is an autographed copy!

As we were driving through Chandler, we found what was probably one of the most interesting museums on Route 66 when we passed a 1937 Armory that has been restored. The Armory was built as a WPA project and it stands proudly at a wide left turn as Route 66 heads into town from the east side. The Armory was solidly built from local sandstone, the large blocks individually hewn and fitted. The building was used through 1971 when the National Guard moved to a new facility.

By the 90’s, the building had fallen into disrepair and there were thoughts about demolishing it. The local citizens prevailed, had it listed on the National Register and by 1998 a restoration group was organized.

The restoration was completed in 2008 and includes a civic event space with a restored section of the original drill floor.

An interesting part of the restoration involved paying homage to the Mother Road that ran past its doors with the creation of the Chandler Route 66 Interpretive Center, now housed in the restored Armory. The Center is unlike any other Route 66 museum, investing heavily on video and pictures to tell the story of the Road. There are several video stations in the center that have large TV’s set up that play videos telling bits of the Route 66 story from different eras. The seating for guests is provided by actual seats from a Model A Ford, a 1940’s vintage Willys Jeep, and the seats from a 1965 Mustang. There’s also a video station that plays videos about the classic motels and neon signs that can be found on the Route, where guests can lie back on a bed to watch the movies.

The Armory was a great stop, an interesting historical building and example of a fantastic restoration. Adding the well curated and interesting Route 66 Interpretive Center was a great idea, pulling in visitors from all over the world as they drive Route 66.

Luther – A Bit of Black Americana on the Mother Road

While researching things to see on Route 66, one of the sources I used was a site curated by the National Park Service and dedicated to preserving the heritage of Route 66 ( The website included a great list of sites along the route that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While perusing the sites in Oklahoma, there was one in particular that stood out and called to me, the Threatt Filling Station. After reading the history of the station, I knew I would stop to take pictures and consider its past.

At just about three miles out of downtown Luther, we came up on a quiet intersection of US 66 and Countyline Road. The Threatt Filling Station stands alone at the intersection, lonely, by itself on the southwest corner.

I have to admit that there doesn’t seem to be anything special about the somewhat dilapidated structure. I’m sure most people would drive right by, not giving the building a second thought except maybe to think it’s time someone should tear it down. But the structure has an important history.

It was built in 1915 by Allen Threatt as a “house type” gas station using design elements popular during the time. The building was built using local sandstone and incorporated wide classic eaves on all four faces. It was set back just enough from the main highway to allow a couple gas pumps out front.  What really sets it apart from the other historic sites along Route 66 is that Allen Threatt was African American and the Threat family homestead, on which the filling station was built, represented economic opportunity for the Threat family.

The station benefited from its location on Route 66 once the highway was commissioned, and it became a popular roadside stop for travelers through the 1950’s. It was one of the few places on Route 66 where people of color were welcome.

In all my enthusiasm to travel the Mother Road, I hadn’t really thought about how Black Americans would have been viewed during the height of the roads popularity. In fact, Blacks traveling Route 66 needed to be much more cautious and they had to stock up for their trip much more carefully because there were many stretches where they were not welcome. Safe refuges like Allen Threatt’s Filling Station were probably welcome sites for traveling Black families.

Oklahoma City – Lake Overholser Bridge

After our reflective stop in Luther, we continued down the road to Oklahoma City and westward to our stop for the night in little Hinton, Oklahoma. It was late afternoon and we still had about 90 miles to the motel. For travelers on today’s interstates, 90 miles may not seem like much but for the way we were traveling (two lane roads, side trips through small towns, city streets through Oklahoma City), the 90 miles left could easily take 2 ½ to 3 hours.

With the sun dropping in the sky, we worked our way through Oklahoma City, catching glimpses of some of the older and more interesting buildings along the route. As we reached the west side of the city, we took an older configuration of Route 66 which took us to a 1924 steel truss bridge that served the Mother Road from 1925 to 1958.

The original bridge was built in 1924 and opened to traffic in 1925 after massive 1923 floods wiped out every bridge in Oklahoma City. With a 20 foot wide roadway, the new bridge was wide for its time. The design was elegant and balanced using a combination of newer (for the era) truss construction spans, with pony truss spans at each end  leading to four Parker through-truss spans over the North Canadian River flats that lead into Lake Overholser. The overall span of the bridge is 748 feet long.

As the traffic on Route 66 exploded into the late 50’s, the 1925 bridge was getting stressed and the highway route was relocated to a new four lane just north of the existing bridge. The older span remained open to local traffic, but was closed to traffic in 2008 because of deterioration.  The historical significance of the bridge was recognized and Oklahoma City invested $4 million dollars to refurbish the bridge, which reopened to traffic in 2011.

Today, the historic bridge is the centerpiece of the northern gateway to the recreational area surrounding Lake Overholser.

With this last serene stop under our belt, we headed west into the setting sun and our last night in Oklahoma, a small hotel in Hinton. From there, it would be about 100 miles to Texas and on to Amarillo.

Tulsa Oklahoma – East Meets West

After cruising through the small towns of northeast Oklahoma, Tulsa felt different. Obviously, the city was much bigger than any of the Oklahoma towns and cities we’d driven through, but it also had a newer, “hip”, boom town feel. Tulsa had been built on oil, declined a bit during the last recession, and has done a great job of bringing in new businesses and industries to expand the city.

As far as Route 66 is concerned, Tulsa was the home to Cyrus Avery and it was in Tulsa that the idea for the highway was conceived and developed. Tulsa became a hub on the new highway when it was officially designated. Today, the city readily embraces its heritage and relationship with Route 66.

Our hotel in Tulsa was a restored older hotel right on the original Route 66. The Max Campbell building was built in 1927 on the western outskirts of town, at the end of a trolley route from downtown Tulsa. It faced the new highway and was designed for a large number of commercial businesses on the first floor with a hotel, the Casa Loma, occupying the second floor. The second-floor hotel was accessed by a grand staircase that had an entrance on the main street.

The hotel serviced travelers on Route 66 and also travelers arriving by train who could take the trolley to the hotel that offered more affordable lodging than what was available in the downtown area.

The building came under the ownership of a company with an eye to revitalizing the neighborhood in 2009, and it has been restored as an upper level boutique hotel.

At the top of the Grand Staircase

The rooms are “themed”, and we had the Tulsa Art Deco Room, with a dark and metallic décor reminiscent of the roaring 20’s.

After breakfast the next morning, we headed out from the hotel to explore a bit of Tulsa before getting back on the highway to the western side of Oklahoma.

Driving down 11th Street, the original route of the highway into downtown Tulsa, we saw quite a few signs reminiscent of the original highway. Some of the neon and chaser lighting graced existing businesses that recognized their historical value and a few businesses that let the signs fall into disrepair.

Just before getting to the downtown area, we passed a historic 1940’s Meadow Gold Dairy sign that has been preserved and restored, placed atop a special brick pavilion, designed to display it, with plaques to tell the story of the signs history.

It’s inspiring to see these items from our cultural history being attended to and preserved. In this case, the work was made possible partly due to a grant from the National Park Service Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, and the committed partnership of the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture, the City of Tulsa, and the Oklahoma Route 66 Association, who all made significant contributions to the effort to save the sign.

When we got to the downtown area, we saw two iconic gas stations from the early days of Route 66 that have been or are being restored and repurposed.

The first station was a 1931 Phillips Petroleum station. Phillips was looking to cash in on the routing of Route 66 and purchased a residential property for conversion to the gas station. The station was designed in a quaint cottage design. A second building for service bays in a matching architectural style was also built and is still on the property.

Phillips ran the station as a corporate entity for a number of years and then started leasing it out to individual entrepreneurs. The station remained popular and productive through the 50’s and into the early 60’s before rerouting of the highway to the super slabs drew down traffic. The station closed in 1973 and the property continued life as a property for paid parking and fell into disrepair. In the early 2000’s, a new owner recognized the historic value of the property and took on restoration after the property was listed on the Register of Historic Places. The efforts resulting in the successful repurposing of the property as a car rental service for downtown Tulsa. The rental office uses the gas station, and the building with the service bays is used to prep and clean the returned vehicles.

A second gas station in the downtown area defines a gentrifying commercial neighborhood  and is on a path to restoration as a historical property to be used as an intimate event space. The Blue Dome building is located on the early routing of Route 66, was built in 1924, opened as a White Star Gulf Station, and served as Tulsa’s first 24 hour gas station.

An interesting aspect of the station design (besides the eye catching blue dome) is the fact that the station is a two story structure. In fact, because the station was designed as a “24/7” business, the company felt it was important to have the operator always available and the second floor was designed as living quarters.

The Blue Dome didn’t last that long as a station; it’s reported that sometime in the 30’s it was repurposed as a bar, moving through a number of owners. Finally, in 2013, nearby bar owners with an interest in historic value purchased the property with an eye for renovation. It’s an icon for the neighborhood and hopefully will someday be available as a cozy public/private event space.

As we drove through the downtown area, we noticed a large number of well-kept art deco style buildings that proved an interesting architectural find. Historically, the city experienced a building boom in the early 1900’s that coincided with the rise of art deco architecture in the United States and resulted in many art deco buildings dotted through the downtown and midtown areas. The impressive collection of art deco buildings has attracted preservationists and many of the buildings have been restored.

As expected, the buildings include a number of office buildings.

The influence is also seen in churches built during the building boom, for example the Boston Avenue Methodist Church, built in 1929.

The art deco influence even carried over to strip mall type buildings built during the period. We saw one, the Warehouse Market,  that was built originally as a Public Market in 1929. The original building, with its ornate art deco tower, housed a variety of shops and a farmers market on one end when it opened.

By 1938, Warehouse Market, a food chain took over the building until 1978. The building floundered as a host to a variety of commercial uses until the entire property was purchased as a package by developers for a Home Depot store. Rather than tear down the iconic art deco structure, the developer saved the façade as a front for a new commercial strip mall adjacent to the big box home improvement store.

After our little tour of Tulsa’s downtown area, we worked our way to the point where the original Route 66 crossed the Arkansas River. The original 11th Street Bridge, built in 1916 and incorporating all modern features for its time, was 1470 feet long and 34 feet wide, carrying one train track flanked by one roadway and pedestrian walk in each direction. It was one of the longest concrete structures in the Midwest at the time.

The route was already busy with traffic in 1926 when it became part of the new Route 66. In 1929, the bridge was refurbished with new lighting and roadway upgrades. It was upgraded again in 1934, when it was widened to four lanes.

Much of the traffic carried by the 11th Street Bridge was rerouted in 1967 with the completion of the I244 bridges just upstream to the west. Still, the bridge deteriorated to the point it was closed to traffic in 1980 and fully replaced by a new Southwest Blvd bridge just downstream to the east.

The original bridge was listed on the National Register in 1996 and Tulsa voters approved a series of projects in 2003, one of which involves promoting and enhancing Route 66 in Tulsa. Part of the plan involved renaming the 11th Street Bridge as the Cyrus Avery Route 66 Memorial Bridge and building a Memorial Plaza and Park leading to the bridge. The Plaza includes a bronze sculpture titled “East Meets West”, further memorializing the Mother Road and Cyrus Avery.

Initially, the 11th Street Bridge was kept open to pedestrians, but continued degradation resulted in it being gated and closed in 2008. It’s still a centerpiece to Tulsa’s memorial to Avery and Route 66, but restoration costs to even make the bridge safe for pedestrians keep climbing. As was noted in a news report on the status of the bridge in 2009, “it’s too expensive to repair, too historic to demolish, and too valuable to ignore” (Emory Bryan, Historic Tulsa Bridge to Remain Closed,, Posted: May 14, 2009 4:19 PM CDT).

The plaza was a great start to Tulsa’s Memorial to Avery and the Road he conceived, but finding a way to restore and open the bridge as part of the memorial would be the “crown jewel”. Here’s hoping that Tulsa finds a way to restore the bridge to centerpiece status for their Route 66 Memorial.

About a mile further down the road as we were leaving Tulsa, we stumbled on one more “gem of Route 66”, Howard Park, a relatively small roadside park dating back to 1918.

The park was created on a donation of 14 acres of land by Tulsans O.R. and Inez Howard. The land was nestled between an early oil refinery and what would become a major railway yard. Still, the forested property offered a green respite for the residents of Red Fork and west Tulsa. As the road alongside the park grew to be a major highway, the park was also a favorite spot for passing motorists to take a break, sometimes turning the park into an informal tourist camp.

In 1990, Howard Park was dedicated as an historic US 66 park. By then, the park had shrunk in size by about half when I244 was constructed land between the park and rail yards. Despite the encroachment of the interstate, the park and its mature trees and green space still offers a bit of a quiet respite. Strolling through the park’s established trees, it wasn’t hard to imagine the giggles and laughter of kids running around playing tag while Mom and Dad got out the fixings for a picnic lunch during a road trip in the 40’s or 50’s.

Recognizing the historic value of the Park, the City of Tulsa commissioned the creation of three stone monoliths for placement in the park. The sculptures were designed by the artist to commemorate not only Route 66 but all the things and industries that have contributed to the cultural identity of Tulsa.

The sculptures were placed prominently in the park in 2017. It was a pleasant stop before we continued down the Mother Road to Oklahoma City and beyond.

A Little Detour in Tulsa, OK

If you’ve been reading the Route 66 blog, there is a strong focus on the historical aspects of Route 66. However, the other half of Top Down Rambling (me) has another interest, and that is a passion for needlework. I have been doing some form of hand stitching for about 50 years. I’ve done cross stitch, hardanger, Temari, punch needle, felting, pulled thread, and for the last 20 years, needlepoint. Now, if you’re not into this, that last sentence came out all “Greek”, and that’s OK. The specifics aren’t relevant to this blog. What is relevant is that because of this interest, I talked my DH (dear hubby) into taking a little detour while we were in Tulsa. When we travel long distances, I like to stop in specialty needlework stores to see what that region has to offer in techniques, designs, and accessories. Often, I will find items that aren’t available in our home area.

Well, we drove to the area store and DH patiently waited outside while I perused the store. Based on my erroneous research, I thought they would have needlepoint goods. But alas, that didn’t work out. For non-stitching people, that would be like going into a grocery store when you are looking for a hammer.

But, the trip was still fruitful. Walking around and looking into every corner for something that would appeal to me, I did find a Mill Hill kit design of an old-fashioned gasoline station with two gas pumps in the foreground. Mill Hit kits are a combination of cross-stitch and beading. It would be an easy item to stitch in the car or hotel room.

Since old gas stations are one of the things we look for on this trip, this was a great stitching project to represent our trip. The name on the gas station in the design is “Joe’s Garage”. To personalize the piece a little more, I’ll change the name to “Gay Parita”, the gas station and friendly people we visited in Missouri. When it’s complete, we’ll post the finished product on the blog!

Oklahoma State Line to Tulsa – Meandering Road, Quaint Towns

US 66 enters Oklahoma to the grassy, rolling hills of the northeast part of the state and works its way to the southwest towards Tulsa. The road seems to meander through the small towns with a Midwest feel – Quapaw, Commerce, Miami (“Mi-a-ma” to Oklahomans), Narcissa, Afton, Vinita, Chelsea, Foyil, Claremore and Catoosa – many forgotten when I44 replaced Route 66. The original route crosses I44 just a couple times as it wends its way southwesterly into Oklahoma.


Besides being the first larger city that you drive through on Route 66 when entering Oklahoma, Commerce proudly claims itself the boyhood home of Micky Mantle, aka “The Commerce Comet”. These two pieces of the city’s history are intertwined on the co-signed “Historic Route 66” and “North Mickey Mantle Boulevard”.

As with most small towns on Route 66, the highway was routed clearly through the downtown. In the case of Commerce, that would be Commerce Street.

At the end of the main drag, the highway turned to head out of town but there were two iconic businesses that tried to capture travelers on their way in or out of town. Both have been saved and restored and are classic stops for the visitors of today.

The Dairy King is at the very end of Commerce Street, squarely in the middle of the dead end road just before it turns out of town. The quaint little restaurant is hard to miss and just begs for a stop. It’s currently run as burger and ice cream shop by a Mom and son team. The place advertises that it’s the home of the one and only Route 66 cookie. Each one is hand made by Charles Duboise, son of Treva, using a cookie mold that he designed and patented.

The Dairy King is a popular stop as a burger, ice cream and cookie shop, but the business started as a Marathon Gas Station and had a stint as a rock shop in its prior lives. Today, Charles enjoys the visits from travelers and is more than willing to share his knowledge of the building’s history as well as the history of the area, including the comings and goings and activities of Bonnie and Clyde when they notoriously visited Commerce in April 1934. He keeps scrapbooks of old pictures, news clippings, and collected facts to share and show visitors.

Kitty corner from the Dairy King is another interesting and quirky Route 66 icon. Built out from the side of what appears to be a brick commercial building is the front part of a classic cottage style Conoco Filling Station.

The hole in the wall Conoco Filling Station (as it’s known), was reportedly built in 1929/1930 on the west wall of the last commercial building on Commerce Street, squeezing in a gas station in the narrow piece of land between the building and the highway. Today, the small station is a souvenir/gift shop and museum for Route 66 memorabilia, and maintains a quaint symbiotic relationship with the Dairy King across the street. It probably was a bit more competitive when both businesses were gas stations in the 30’s and 40’s, competing for the passing traffic.


We rolled down the Mother Road as it meandered through the countryside of northeast Oklahoma and a string of the cities and towns – Miami, Narcissia, Afton, Vinita – each with its own special quaint feel and personality before making our way into Chelsea, Oklahoma.

Chelsea started as a rail town, a stop on the Atlantic Pacific Railroad. Initially just a small farm town with a train depot, the town itself gained a bit of a reputation for being the site of the first oil found in the Oklahoma territory in the very late 1800’s.

By the time Route 66 was routed through the town in 1926, the oil boom was in a downswing;  the nearby oil fields proved to be of good quality, but the volume wasn’t great and more productive oil fields were located elsewhere in the state. Still, Chelsea did have an oil refinery and a well-developed commercial district that easily switched to serving travelers on the Mother Road. Chelsea embraces its Route 66 heritage with three sites related to the highway.

Just as you enter town from the east, there is a section of the older road configuration (1926 – 1932) that cuts off to the southwest to cross Pryor Creek on the original 1926 modified Pratt through-truss girder bridge built for Route 66. The bridge is listed on the National Register and is open to traffic, albeit with a restricted weight load.

The bridge is neatly nestled into the dense woods that line Pryor Creek.

Also on the edge of town is another site that is listed on the National Register. The Chelsea Motel no longer serves as a way stop for travelers but stands as a ghost of the roadside economy that existed in small towns on the route.

The motel was built in the late 1930’s as traffic on the Mother Road started expanding. A small, family owned motel on the edge of town such as this would be an inviting place to stay after a long day on the road. Establishments like this would provide a backbone to the booming roadside economy that sprang up along the highways across the US. Glitzy neon signs would beckon travelers to stop in the quaint roadside motels to rest for the night.

The formula worked for the Mom and Pop establishments while the traffic on the highways expanded and grew. But the growth brought new challenges and the need for bigger and faster highways. By the mid 1950’s, a new turnpike opened about 5 miles southeast of Chelsea, pulling travelers off the two lane highways that networked the small towns of America and on to the faster “super slabs” that joined the more urban centers.

Today, the Chelsea Motel is privately owned and used primarily for storage, standing as a ghostly beacon to a time that was.

When 66 was routed through Chelsea, it was laid out along the tracks on the east side of town and it effectively moved the town center to the east. Route 66 became the dividing line between the east and west sides of Chelsea.

All along Route 66, as traffic continued to grow in volume, pedestrian safety when crossing the highway became an issue. A number of cities and towns along the route introduced pedestrian tunnels to help people in crossing the street. Some of these were first introduced as WPA projects in the 1930’s, but a number were also built into the 1950’s as travel on the highway exploded. This was the case in Chelsea.

Chelsea has turned their 1958 vintage pedestrian tunnel into an interesting stop along Route 66. The tunnel is open and lined on one side by  a 90 foot mural dedicated to the history of Chelsea and on the other side by a “signature wall”.

The tunnel was an interesting stop and it afforded an opportunity for a classic set of pictures from both sides of the street.


Continuing on from Chelsea, we took a bit of a detour along the older alignment of Route 66 through the small town of Foyil, Oklahoma, known as the home of Andy Payne, winner of the First Annual Transcontinental Foot Race. The race, run in 1928, was organized by C. C. Pyle, a sports promoter from Illinois.

Pyle organized the race as a money making activity, planning promotional activities along the way. It was to be run largely on the new Route 66 and was considered a promotion for the newer highway. Pyle offered a large purse of $48,500, with a $25,000 first prize. The sizeable prize money  drew international attention in the world of competitive running.  Still, Andy Payne,  a lad of 20 years, part Cherokee from Oklahoma where he was a track athlete in high school, saw the race as an opportunity. He felt he could accomplish more in three months (the duration of the race) than he could his entire life. Andy lined up some local support and started a training regimen for the race.

When the race started in California on March 4, 1928, Andy was one of 275 entrants. By the end of California, the competitors had dropped to 145, with Payne a distant fourth place. By Amarillo, Payne had achieved second place and he barely eked into first place as he entered his home state of Oklahoma.

The fame and publicity of being the leader cost the native son in his run through Oklahoma, and he ran into Kansas in second place as one of 80 competitors.

Andy regained first place in the Chicago to New York leg, and ran into New York City on May 26, 1928 with a winning time of 573 hours, 4 minutes, 37 seconds. He claimed his first prize winnings and returned to his home state of Oklahoma, a popular home state hero.

Andy used his winnings to pay off his family’s mortgage and used the rest to invest in land that ultimately paid off when oil and gas was discovered. He got married, worked as a newspaper editor for a while and ultimately got elected as Clerk of the Supreme Court of Oklahoma, holding the position for 38 years.

Little Foyil Oklahoma hasn’t forgotten their native son. The original highway is currently named Andy Payne Boulevard and there is a small memorial park and stature commemorating his achievement.

After stopping in Foyil, we continued our drive through Claremore, Verdigris, and Catoosa to our stop for the night in Tulsa.

Route 66 Through Oklahoma – The Mother Road Heads West

In retrospect, I consider Oklahoma a transition state for Route 66. The US highway started very near the northeast corner of the state, worked its way to the southwest towards Oklahoma City and then swung almost due west as it ran towards California.

It’s also a somewhat transitory state in terms of topography. Oklahoma encompasses a wide variety of terrain and ecosystems ranging from hilly, forested regions in the northeast, near subtropical mountain regions in the southeast, with a transition to arid plains to the west of Oklahoma City. Oklahoma reportedly contains ten distinct ecological regions, more per square mile than in any other state by a wide margin. When you drive Route 66 through Oklahoma, you traverse many of these.

Oklahoma Ties to the Birth of US 66

For aficionados of the Mother Road, Oklahoma is also the home to Cyrus Avery, considered the father of Route 66. After moving to Oklahoma from Missouri in the very early 1900’s, Avery saw the benefit of well-developed roads to interstate commerce. He worked for a number of road associations through the years, ultimately getting appointed to the Joint Board of Interstate Highways in 1925. It was in this position that Avery advocated for a transcontinental route from Chicago to LA which conveniently ran through his home state of OK as well as the state of his youth, Missouri.

Although the idea for the highway was conceived and fostered in Oklahoma, the state is not considered the birthplace of the Mother Road. That honor befalls to Missouri, specifically Springfield. It was at a meeting in Springfield Missouri late April 1926 that a major impasse on the number for the new highway was settled. Avery had long wanted US 60 to be the number for his dream highway, and he had gotten all of the states involved to agree. The problem was the Governor of Kentucky, who wanted the coveted US 60 for a highway from Virginia to California that would cross his state.

The numbering stalemate had lasted six months when Avery and his team met in Springfield Missouri to look at options. Kentucky had offered US 62 as an option, but the number “60” was much coveted by both sides of the table. As a last ditch effort, Avery had asked Oklahoma’s Chief Highway Engineer John Page to assemble a list of all unused numbers for cross country highways.

The group reviewed all 24 available numbers. Word of mouth history suggests it may have been Page who noted that the catchy number “66” was still available. In any case, the number caught Avery’s whim and it was quickly agreed to by those present. By late afternoon of April 30, 1926 a telegram signed by Avery and B.H. Piepmeir, Missouri’s Chief Highway Engineer, was sent to the Bureau of Public Roads in Washington.

The telegram clearly stated the preference for US 66 over the lesser US 62 and the Mother Road was born.

One year later, Avery would be instrumental in the creation of the US Highway 66 Association to promote paving the route and promote travel and tourism on the highway. The rest, as they say, is history.

Kansas Route 66

If you do an internet search for the number of miles that Route 66 covered in Kansas, you’ll get answers ranging from 11 to 14 miles. Regardless of which source you choose, the number of miles is small compared to the other states that were traversed by Route 66.

Just because the number of miles is small doesn’t mean Kansas is forgetting it’s Route 66 heritage. Galena, Riverton, and Baxter Springs all embrace Route 66 and what the road meant to their development. The state has also embraced the Mother Road, designating one the best examples of a concrete arch bridge a state historic landmark and helping to get the bridge listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks.

Missouri Oklahoma State Line

The topography of the land at the junction of Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas that made road planners in the early 1900’s choose to route 66 through the very corner of Kansas led to a rather ironic development of roadside businesses along Route 66 right at the Missouri/Kansas state line.

Kansas is known to have some of the strictest liquor laws in the US. In fact, the whole state was dry from 1881 to 1948 (yes, the whole state of Kansas stayed “dry” a full fifteen years after prohibition ended). Missouri, on the other hand, was and still is rather liberal in their liquor laws and quickly embraced the end of prohibition in 1933.

After the end of prohibition, it didn’t take long for some entrepreneurial Missourians to realize the  potential for some very targeted businesses on the Missouri side of Route 66 as traffic picked up on the new cross country highway.

The State Line Saloon still operates today as the Hogs and Hot Rod Saloon. The ghost of the store side sign for the State Line Mercantile Co., prominently painted on the side of the building facing Kansas, harkens back to an earlier day when the store was actively seeking business from its dry neighbors.


A scant half mile into Kansas, we found ourselves cruising into Galena Kansas, the first of three towns we’d drive through. Galena boomed in the late 1800’s as a lead mining town, and stayed busy with mining into the 1970’s. The fact that the city was the eastern gateway to Kansas Route 66 also helped it’s growth.

Today, the small community provides Route 66 memories with buildings that have ghost signs visible on the sides and a small restored Kan-O-Tex gas station that is adorned with a number of older cars, including the International Harvester L-170 truck that became the inspiration for the character “Mater” in Disney’s Cars.


A few miles down the road from Galena, Route 66 crosses the Spring River and enters the town of Riverton. Just a bit past the bridge, the roadside Eisler Brothers Country Store is an inviting stop. The store opened in 1925 under the name of Williams. In 1973, the Eisler family purchased the store, and in 2011 it was sold to an Eisler nephew by the name of Nelson. His name adorns the store today.

Regardless of the name changes, the store is effectively the same as when it opened in 1925. Although the store served primarily local residents, it was a popular stop for travelers on Route 66. Especially interesting is the original 1925 pressed metal ceiling.

Just west of Riverton, on a short stretch of original Route 66, is the famous Marsh Rainbow Bridge over Brush Creek.

The bridge, built in 1923, is the lone survivor of three bridges of the same design that original graced Route 66 through Kansas. The bridge was saved by efforts to recognize its importance to Route 66 as well as Kansas, and it was listed on the National Register in 1983. The listing helped keep the bridge open as a one way bypass for limited traffic when a new bridge was constructed over the creek.

Baxter Springs

We finished our short drive on Kansas Route 66 by cruising through the small city of Baxter Springs. The city has a long history beyond route 66. The local mineral springs made the area a favored rest stop for the Osage Indians on their way to summer hunting grounds and drew early settlement. The city also grew quickly in the later 1800’s when it became a through point for cattle drives coming up from Texas on their way to northern markets in Kansas City, making Baxter Springs the first “Cow Town” of Kansas. Shortly after, the mining boom in the area took over.

By the time Route 66 was routed through Baxter Springs in 1926, the downtown was already well established. Still, the effect of the Mother Road is apparent with gas stations, cafes and old downtown hotels. The city maintains its ties to Route 66 with a museum in a restored 1930’s Phillips 66 station.

Another bonus in Baxter Springs is a short stretch of the original Route 66 pavement at the south end of town. When the highway was configured to accommodate a shopping center on the south end of town, a sharper curve in the original two lane highway was “isolated” but not “abandoned”; it’s still maintained for service access to the stores in the aging strip mall and offers an albeit brief experience of traveling on the original Route 66 in Kansas.

Leaving Baxter Springs, we headed down the road about a half mile, saying “Goodbye” to Kansas and “Hello” to Oklahoma.